Insurers within these lines of business will need to implement the association’s measures by December 2021

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) has today launched its new Mental Health Standards for travel, health and protection insurers in order to better support customers with mental health conditions.

Speaking at an online event this morning, titled ’Unspoken stigma to national news - a spotlight on mental health and access to insurance’, the ABI’s director of policy for long-term savings and protection Yvonne Braun explained how the new standards are the culmination of two years of work between the trade association and mental health campaigners.

The standards have been designed to drive consistency and best practice across the industry when it comes to supporting those with mental health conditions, providing clearer communications and more transparent decision making.

Braun said: “This work has focused on understanding better where people with mental health conditions face problems when dealing with our sector and then tackling these problems through the standards.

”These obstacles are not just distressing for customers because they make the experience very stressful, they’re also a big problem because they can discourage people from even applying for insurance, leaving them at much greater risk of financial hardship.

“The standards give clear guidance to health, protection and travel insurers on how to support the needs of people with mental health conditions when they’re looking for cover. They focus on accessibility, on supporting customers through the application process, on communicating decisions with empathy and increasing the transparency of decision making.

“And we have deliverables too. We have training programmes that need to be implemented for frontline staff about mental health problems and how to treat customers with compassion.

”We’re having clear deliverables on the underwriting journey itself, to explain questions more clearly and communicate decisions in a clear and empathetic way. And we have a deadline – our members have to agree to implement these standards by December 2021.”

Setting high standards

Developed in consultation with experts such as Mental Health UK and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the standards include:

  • Improving accessibility by providing support to customers who may need help completing application forms and offering two or more choices of how a customer can communicate with their insurer.
  • Supporting customers throughout their application by explaining the process and why certain questions are being asked.
  • Standardising communications with customers by removing technical language, making any exclusions clear and signposting consumers to relevant support services.
  • Increasing transparency around decision making by explaining to customers, upon request, what evidence was used to inform their insurer’s decision on cover and a commitment from insurers to regularly review their underwriting approach for mental health conditions.

Alongside these measures, the ABI has also launched a consumer-facing website to provide a one-stop-shop of relevant insurance information, including advice for insurance professionals on dealing with individuals who have a mental health condition. This was created in conjunction with Mental Health UK.

Braun added: “Neither the standards nor the consumer facing webpages will fix things overnight, but they should make applying for insurance a much less stressful experience for people with mental health conditions and hopefully they will also demystify the process.”

Crucial safety net

John Glen, economic secretary to the Treasury, supplied a pre-recorded message to be played at the ABI’s launch event. In this, he said that “insurance products can provide crucial safety nets in times when people need it most. It can provide peace of mind, especially to those that suffer from poor mental health”.

He continued: “These standards will empower frontline staff to engage empathetically and appropriately with consumers with mental health conditions. And they require firms to communicate clearly and transparently with consumers about underwriting decisions and ensure that consumers are signposted to relevant support services. This is clearly especially important in the light of what’s happened with Covid-19.

“It’s really positive that the insurance industry is taking proactive steps to improve access to insurance for vulnerable consumers.

“It is vital that the industry rebuild consumers’ faith that insurance will be the vital safety net when things go wrong. Not just for those with existing mental health conditions, but for all consumers who have suffered as a result of the pandemic.”

Sarah Murphy, associate director for advice, information and training at ReThink, also told virtual attendees about some the barriers that people with mental health conditions experience when attempting to purchase travel, health or protection insurance. This includes a fundamental lack of understanding around the available products and the application process, where to access independent advice from, not having the confidence to challenge declinatures in cover, or being uncomfortable to discuss personal details with a stranger.

Carl Padget, head of underwriting and claims at Pacific Life Re, added that the ABI’s standards will act as a starting point or stepping stone to improve services for those with mental health conditions, while Darren Woodward, director of transformation at Turning Point, reminded attendees that change in this area will be a “slow burn” and won’t happen overnight. However, he said that industry professionals need “to keep up the charge”.